BLOG: The false narrative of opening day

John Finger
York Dispatch

We don't do sentiment here. We appreciate and, conversely, call out people and things, but sentiment isn't our bag. Not anymore. Not since spending the last 16 years in the kitchen and watching what the chef does to the soup.

Charlie Manuel answers a question during a press conference in 2010.

So baseball opening day has no special allure here. For the baseball writer it means no days off until December, lose your vacation days and sleep on the floor in the office. The kids? Show ‘em a picture of dad. Maybe they’ll remember.

Still, baseball gets folks all weepy. Americans love to wax on about baseball. Yes, it's true. It's also true that there are companies that exist solely to produce that saccharine sweet baseball-as-a-metaphor-for-life bull. You know, that NPR/Field of Dreams tripe about ghosts walking out of the corn or holding your dad's hand as you walk into Fenway or something like that.

Man, it just makes me want to throw up.

Why, you ask (or even if you didn't I'm going to write it anyway)? Perhaps it's because the reality of life has made a bigger impression than the fairy tale. For instance, my first exposure to baseball came at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. At the Vet the design was so bad that nearly every seat in the house sucked. I can remember walking in there for the first time in 1976 and thinking that we'd be better off watching the game at home on TV – at least then I'd be able to see what the players looked like. At least then I wouldn't have some jackass spill beer down my back as I nursed a nose bleed brought on from the altitude sickness from the crappy seats.

Or in Baltimore, a neighborhood stadium with sardine can-styled parking, National Bohemian beer ads everywhere, and drunk cab driver on the dugout leading the cheers for the weeded crowd that needed to yank out the ganja one last time so that the he would be numb for when the police billy clubs rained down on him after being tackled for running out on the field.

You're crazy if you think going to places like that doesn't have an effect on a kid prone to over-thinking everything.

Even now it seems as if baseball is personified by odd behavior. What’s baseball really like? It’s not something on a PBS documentary or a George Will op-ed. It’s Billy Wagner exposing himself after being asked about throwing a slider, Charlie Manuel's stories about Billy Martin, or Chase Utley giving the most mundane clichés because he really hates the idea of talking about baseball.

It's greenies, the cream, the clear and three-hour games.

The truth is I prefer the reality to the produced fairy tales. I appreciate it. Just like the put on part – you know, the crap about how time starts on Opening Day – the truth is so different from real life. Accepted behavior and norms are pulverized with a fungo and no one goes to jail for it.

Who doesn't appreciate that?

So let's wax on...

A decade ago the Vet was closed and mercifully blown up. Personally, I think the stadium got off easy. I would have preferred torture or waterboarding instead of implosion, but it all worked out in the end.

Anyway, the reason why certain jaded baseball writers disliked opening day is for the same reason a devout church goer dislikes mass on Christmas.

Let’s leave it with this …

The most lasting memory I have of opening day came in 2005. In his first year as manager of the Phillies, Charlie Manuel made the decision to start Placido Polanco at second base instead of Utley. To a baseball man, it made sense. Utley still had not played a full major league season and Polanco was a savvy veteran who was a Gold-Glove defensive whiz.

But even back then Utley was viewed as the cornerstone of the franchise and certain segments of the media believed Polanco should be moved aside for the younger player. Because of this, Manuel’s pregame media session with the writers was an inquisition. He was grilled unmercifully for 30 minutes about one seemingly innocuous decision about which player he chose to play second base.

So after his grilling ended, Manuel walked up the dugout steps for a brief session with the TV media where he was greeted with smiling faces and innocuous questions like, "Charlie, the sun is shining and it's a beautiful day. Does opening day ever get old?”

Yes, perhaps it does.

What does opening day really mean? One game down and six months to go.